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March 18, 2007


Nice pick up.

Looks like Waxman is taking time out from his day job to appear on Charlie Rose this Monday.

I've had a mild headache over this point since the Trial. As I recall it, Cheney told Libby to leak the NIE. Libby balked. Cheney said the President had declassified it. Libby checked that out with [no apparent neck] Addington. Much later, after everything was kind of public, President Bush confirmed the story. I suspect that either Bush never did it for real at the time and Cheney made it up or this is evidence of Bush's direct involvement in the whole sordid story. Was there a time in between when Bush ever commented on the leaking of the NIE? My other question is about Article II of the Constitution. When Leonard said that, I read Article II, but I don't see that power. Is it in some case that interpreted that power?

Marcy, I may have missed it, but did anyone ask any of the witnesses whether we as citizens ought to be able to assume that the oath of office for these federal officials (the VP, say) implies that extraordinary care will always be exercised, as a simple matter of responsible common sense, in the matter of public discussions of covert intelligence agents? All of this parsing of whether any of the leakers knew Plame was covert is spectacularly beside the point. Why would the burden not always be on the leaker to make certain that any information to be made public about CIA employees would not in any way damage any of our security interests. Even if they want to argue that there is some inherent unitary executive power to declassify on the spot, such a power could not possibly extend to revealing the identity of a covert agent, with all of the ramifications that could ensue. I, like the jury, remain astonished that Fitzgerald could find no one to prosecute for the real and obvious crime.

I think Davis is trying to protect Bush. The personal act of declassification can imply knowledge and awareness of intent wrt closely related events, especially when the subject of declassification is selective and only made known to a couple or few people. To the extent that Bush's absolute authority to declassify extends to somehow authorizing Cheney to declassify on the spot without Bush's knowledge, it maintains plausible deniability for Bush to claim no knowledge of events, particularly 'legal' acts that were subsequently lied about to the public or investigators.

I suspect that either Bush never did it for real at the time and Cheney made it up or this is evidence of Bush's direct involvement in the whole sordid story.

Even with this most powerful of vice presidents, what are the odds that the president would be brought into a cover story to protect the VP? It just doesn't work that way. So I'd go for the other alternative.

Some people have accepted/swallowed whole the Bush-wah that the Pres can declassify whenever he wants...I don't yet agree and have not seen that spelled out very clearly, but....
That would be a very dangerous ability and truly a license to steal.
According to my reading of the exec orders, there are specific instructions for declassifying something.
The VP and Pres must have originated the document to declassify it the way I read the Exec orders.
So, on Dkos I suggested that they could have written a review or memo about a classified document from another agency, and since they wrote this new document, then declassify it whenever it suits them...which would make moot the Exec. orders and support the claims by those who say they can do what they like. grrrr.
KagroX has detailed on Feb 10(?) how the VP's office is making claims about their authority...that's a fight that needs to be had, constitutionally speaking!

I've mentioned here before that this absolute ability to insta-declass and classify again is a great way to take control of documents from other agencies, or even branches of government. "Absolute is absolute" strikes me as a dangerous idea to feed to this or any President.

I was surprised that no one asked Leonard what kind of records are kept when a document is declassified. I mean, if the document is completely declassified, there should be a record of that, even if the President does it. And if the document is declassified for only a few people, that would be written down as well, right?

Does it strike anyone as odd that Waxman or other Dems didn't follow up on this ambiguity in the testimony? Or could it be in the interest of pursuing the investigation that the point regarding Cheney's authority re insta-declass remain ambiguous for now? If so, what might Waxman be setting up? I ask this because I was really struck in watching this live that everybody sort of took a big swallow at this point - witnesses, audience, and members from both sides. It was like everybody at once went "cough, cough I think I just smelled somthing . . . " Maybe I'm making too much of it. But I find it hard to believe that Waxman let this point go because it's insignificant or he was distracted, etc.

Davis is clearly asking about the President and the Vice President. Yet Leonard is answering solely in reference to the President. (Perhaps, as a civil servant, he has forgotten that Cheney isn't really the President???)

Good thing I'm nearly finished with AoD (I'm a slow reader) or I'd be totally lost in these waters, as usual. As it is I have some idea where you're going (absolutely terrific book by the way, Marcy -- I really appreciate that it was written for even someone as ignorant of these Wheelers' & dealers as I am.) Cheney is quoted on p.117, speaking to Russert:

"I have the authority as vice president under executive order issued by the president to classify and declassify information. And everything I've done is consistent with those authorities."

This of course doesn't jibe with the series of events you lay out just a couple pages back, and that Mickey summarizes above, in which Cheney directs Libby to leak (something) and then has to tell him it has been declassified by the President, rather than just declassifying it himself. Clearly by their own actions VP ≠ POTUS.

But, on both political and policy footing, I really like Hodes going after the implications of a sentence you have on p.116, "Miller fairly routinely received classified leaks regarding WMDs", supported by about 3 or 4 examples over a few month period. Also clever to make it clear that "leak" is not anonymously providing insider gossip in this context, but in any way providing classified information -- a usage from the intelligence world that's quite different from the usual usage in journalism. Surely even Republican stalwarts can agree that a reporter from the NYT should not be getting a de facto security clearance -- there is no question that is a national security risk (Fox News, ok; but the NYT??) Leaking a classified NIE is leaking classified information, just as much as leaking a covert agent's identity is leaking classified information -- "I didn't steal that cookie, I was only stealing candy."

Two things: (1) The point is repeatedly made by the Republics that no one said Mrs. Wilson was a covert agent (even though Novak should have assumed this was what Mr. Harlow was telling him). The fact is that no one said Mrs. Wilson was NOT a covert agent so, in the interest of due diligence, everyone should have assumed she was. (2) The legal distinction should be made between exposing a person in covert status via instant declassification and that of instant declassification of a paper (the NIE). Facts confuse the Republics but they should be in the record.


IANAL, and lawyers please feel free to correct me on this, but the absolute authority given to the pres wrt classification/declassification authority stems from both Sections 1 and 2 of Article II. In section 1, it states that the "...executive power be vested in [the] President..." Now this is where Addington gets his unitary executive theory, but with regards to classification issues, which have been interpreted by the Supremes to be the purview of the Executive branch since they deal with sensitive governmental information, as head of the Executive branch, he has absolute authority to make these sorts of decisions.

Furthermore, his Section II powers include the C-in-C clause, and since many classification matters deal with matters vital to the national defense and the military, his authority to oversee such matters is also absolute.

I'm sure there's some case law citation that explicitly spells this stuff out, like I said IANAL, so I don't know.

Are there differences between declassifying a document and revealing an undercover agent's ID? I remember reading something at TNH or JOM saying that Congress, or maybe Tenet (and Plame herself), would need to approve if Plame's info was released. Might be another reason for using the NIE in to cover for leaking Plame, easy to demonstrate that all's Kosher.

the insta de, and re, is evidence of a conspiracy. the acts were to hide criminal activity. should be quite simple to read the statutes. the interpretation will be the interesting part. will congress believe it enough to constitute a misdemeanor, or a high crime

IANAL or security professional, but it's my understanding that the authority to classify and declassify are separate (which would make sense), and the executive order delegates the authority to classify, but makes no mention of declassification. I take this to mean that Cheney's "I have the authority to declassify on a whim" is just an attempt to muddy the waters.

It's a pity Tom Davis isn't likely to have any town hall meetings until it gets closer to election season. I'd love to ask him about this, and about his contention that if the CIA doesn't tell the White House who their covert agents are so they know not to mention them, the CIA isn't really protecting them.


i'm glad you are persisting in writing on this matter.

there is still much to understand about how this white house handled intelligence papers as well as personnel.

do you know whether waxman going to hold more hearings working out form friday's?


I agree. There's much more oversight and process that goes along with declassification than with classification. It seems relatively easy to classify something. But declassification is much harder, and usually involves the person who classified it in the first place. Since Cheney didn't classify Plame's status, I'm assuming he doesn't really have the power to declassify it unilaterally. Only the president can do that. And I'd like to think, that for something as serious as outing an NOC, there'd be a paper trail for such an order.

I made the point over at Kos that the fact that Knodell testified that no investigation was ever opened into the leak of Valerie Plame's identity meant that from the outset Bush knew that there had been no leak of "classified" information because he or Cheney had declassified it so it could be leaked to reporters. Hence no need to investigate the leak, despite what he told the public about getting to the bottom of it. I think this is really damning.

Frankly, I don't know where Congress could go with the NIE matter, unless they can get Cheney and Bush to testify.

I'm incredibly glad Waxman held this hearing. I don't know what the procedure is, but this seemed to me like the beginning of a set of hearings. Is that a faulty assumption? He concluded the session by stating that he'd "keep the record open," to fact-check Toensing...but does that imply this matter is otherwise done?

Speaking of Toensing...does anyone think she actually made false statements to Congress? If she didn't cross the line, she sure as hell stood on it!

It makes absolutely no sense that the president and/or vice-president can out a covert agent without the agent's knowledge. What if Mrs. Wilson had been overseas on a secret mission when Novak told the world what it had no need to know? Did all the loose lips know her whereabouts while they were chattering about her? I cannot believe there is a provision anywhere that allows the president and/or vice-president to do what they did.

Mimikatz,in your DKos comment you said
"Only 2 people (besides the CIA) can declassify info--Bush and Cheney (by delegation)."
Well, that's the issue, and why do you say that? There is discussion about Exec Orders and also section II, but no one has found that to be clearly true. Quite the opposite.

Thanks emptywheel, great catch.

FWIW, here's a line of questioning from Libby's grand jury testimony -- either Fitzgerald and/or
the GJ apparently suspected Cheney never really got permission from Bush (this was before Fitz had interviewed Cheney or Bush, though):

Q. And the next question was, what did the Vice
President tell you about his conversation with the President
when the President gave you the green light to share some of
the NIE information with the press which turned out to be
Judith Miller?
A. He told me to go ahead and talk to -- that we should
go ahead and, and talk to the press about the NIE. I don't
remember whether he said Judith Miller at that point or, or we
should go ahead and talk about it. And, you know, I said, the
President cleared it? And he said, "yes," or something. I
didn't use those words necessarily, but that was -- I made
sure that, that he had talked to the President, the President
said that we should talk about it.
Q. Do you know if he met with the President in person
or spoke to him by telephone?
A. I don't know.
Q. And do you know if the Vice President was in town,
in Washington, when he talked to the President about it or was
out of town?
A. I believe he was in town when he talked to, talked
about it.
Q. And do you know whether the President was in town
when he talked to the President about it?
A. I think that he talked to the President -- I believe
they were both in town when they talked about it, but I, I
don't know, but that was my impression.
Q. Any other detail that the Vice President imparted to
you about his conversation that he had with the President?
A. No, sir.

A really dedicated weed-digger might explore Cheney and Dubya's schedules for the time period in question (e.g., Dubya was in Africa July 7-13, Cheney in Wyoming the weekend just prior)...

KenBee--I assume your question is over the VP's authority to declassify. I am giving them the benefot of the doubt here because i don't think it gets them anything. one or the other did it. My money is on VP, probably without initial Presidential authorization. I don't think it lets anyone off; rather, it shows Bush for a liar.


I made this comment--must have been somewhere else.

But Cheney was in Jackson Hole until July 7--not sure what time he came home, bc we didnt' get Libby's schedule for that day. And then Bush left late afternoon. In other discussions of this timing, Libby seems to imply the Miller meeting got set up on July 7. And we know that the Addington conversation took place on July 8, probably between the Libby/Cheney briefing at 7ish and the 3 hour block dedicated to Judy at 8:30.

Libby prints his copy of Wilson's op-ed out early morning on July7, though it's not clear whether he reviews it with Cheney in person or over the phone.


The rules for the classification and declassification of national security information all derive from executive orders, not legislation (with the exception of certain nuclear energy/weapons data that was covered by legislation). The President promulgates executive orders to provide instruction and guidance to the members of his administration and the executive branch bureaucracy. This means, quite simply, that the President can violate an Executive Order any time he wants (he makes the rules, he can bend or break them at his pleasure). If the President authorized Libby to leak the NIE to some reporters, that's perfectly legal. Of course, if Libby didn't get that authorization in writing, he can still be at risk (that's where "plausible deniability" comes from).

Leaking Valerie Plame Wilson's identity is a slightly different matter because there is a statute on the books (IIPA). Laws trump EOs (despite what the current administration wants to believe). Unfortunately, the IIPA is, in my layman's view, a very poorly written piece of legislation and its authors never imagined that a sitting President would countenance the outing of a covert agent.

The main thing I took away from the evidence presented at Waxman's hearing is that it is pretty obvious that the outing of Valerie Plame Wilson did not bother George W. Bush. He did absolutely nothing about it until he was forced to. I happen to believe that he approved of the action (whether before or after it happened is still unclear). At some point, we, as a polity, will have to deal with that.

In Friday's hearing, there were repeated references to the black rectangle on the handout that illustrated who told whom about our heroine. That rectangle pointed to Cheney and Rove. I couldn't see if the President was one shown as 'in the know', or if it's unclear what he knew. And I realize that Rover and Deadeye could have heard from almost anyone else. However, Deadeye was a frequent visitor to the C.I.A., and no doubt Rove was a frequent guest of the Pres. It's quite possible that the Pres. was the conduit between Cheney and Rove.

Because of this, and for other reasons intimated during Waxman's hearing, we haven't seen the last of the House hearings on the matter. In the first place, a number of panelists, and Toering, at least, among those testifying, mentioned that it appeared as if the C.I.A. did as little as possible to protect Ms. Plame's identity. Remember that Grenier admitted as much in the trial. Likewise, Hadwell the C.I.A. flak that lamely asked Novak not to publish her identity. And there are others. It follows, then, that Waxman and Co. would be keen to fill in that black box. Of course, officers of the C.I.A. being good little spies, they were caught in a Catch-22. To wit: You work for the C.I.A. People are asking you about who sent Wilson. You think his wife had something to do with it. So you say that. Then you realize that, having said that much, you should be saying, "Oh, and by the way, she's undercover." But you can't say that, because to do so would be a violation of EO 12958, revealing classified information to those without the need to know! So you swallow hard and bite your tongue, and hope it goes no further. But it does.

In that scenario, it's perfectly plausible, by the way, to think that the recipient of the information could think "the wife" is just an employee--a secretary, yeah, that's the ticket--and therefore exposing her would be meaningless. Big oops. I said that this was plausible, but I have to think, in fact, very improbable, since we're dealing with Deadeye--who's lived with classified information and C.I.A. cloaks and daggers for most of his adult life. However it does afford Cheney plausible deniability, which is all he or the other Dick (Nixon) ever worried about.

Now, back to the hearings, and EW's point in this post. What are the President's and VPOTUS's rights with respect to declassifying classified information? The IIPA makes no distinction between the hoi palloi and the hoity toity. So, irrespective of the classified nature of a clandestine officer's role, to knowingly reveal her identity, even for the President and his first minister, with absolute declassification powers, would be a federal crime!

So, memo to Henry Waxman. Find out who told Rover and Deadeye, and why the C.I.A. was so reluctant to protect one of their own, and you'll have the puzzle pieces that FITZ couldn't gather because they were outside the purview of his mandate. Subpoena the Hell out of the White House, and put as many in jail for Contempt of Congress that you feel are necessary. See how they like the Judith Miller syndrome.

For a good discussion of classification issues, go see this report by the CRS (updated in 2004):


I'd like to comment on the following point you made in regards to the Presidents Authority to declassify the NIE. "At this point, two things should be clear to those who haven't been briefed to be concerned about this point. One, the President can do whatever he wants with regards to declassification. And two, then if Libby leaked the NIE to Judy Miller with the President's blessing, then it's all legal--and shouldn't be any concern."

But the way this all worked out the NIE was still classified wasn't it? and If so how is it that Judy Miller can talk about it? Are we saying that she too was allowed to declassify the NIE?

Now, back to the hearings, and EW's point in this post. What are the President's and VPOTUS's rights with respect to declassifying classified information? The IIPA makes no distinction between the hoi palloi and the hoity toity. So, irrespective of the classified nature of a clandestine officer's role, to knowingly reveal her identity, even for the President and his first minister, with absolute declassification powers, would be a federal crime! [Canuck Stuck in Muck]

Here! Here! That has to be correct...

So today the Whore House say's of Gonzo - "We hope he stays". Hmmmm -"We hope he stays" as in, "It's going to be his choice" as in, "We're leaving room for him to pretend to choose to leave because he feels he has failed the president" As in, "He's done."

Just for the sake of this point, I will accept that Cheney and Bush both have insta-declassification/classification powers. I know this might be a minor detail but I would think that Cheney et al once they insta-declassified the information (days and weeks prior to Novakula's column) about Mrs. Wilson status, shouldn't the CIA and/or Mrs. Wilson been notified by Cheneyco directly in writing before reading about it in the newspaper on July 14th? Or maybe the CIA did know and didn't tell Valerie (I doubt it but who knows).

I know the Wilson's had an inkling about it from that friend of Joe's who just happened to have bumped into Novak on the street...but why weren't The Wilson's or the CIA officially notified by Cheneyco about the change in her declassification status? And what are the formal procedures under this insta-declassification powers both before and after it takes place for the people and agencies it invloved? And if there were procedures were they followed? (doubtful). There has to be some formal gov't procedure and process here (even under the insta-declassification powers) that should have been followed. I don't believe accidentally learning about the change in your own classification status from a friend of yours who happened to bump into someone who knew about the change in status or reading it from the newspaper would be any of them.

So to me this whole insta- declassification/classification powers is just that...a bogus coverup scheme that works effectively on the media and sheeple.

my too sense. excellent insight. elegant.


Please don't give up digging on the Waas story that suggests Bush blocked an investigation of Gonzales over NSA. If true, it's possibly criminal and takes the trail right to the President's door.

I confess I have not had time to comb the interesting (but lengthy!) comments here; possibly my question would have been answered if I had. If this is moot, mea culpa.

I remember some months back learning that bush had at some time previously annointed cheney with extraordinary declassification powers of his very own. My vague recollection is that this was the first time this authority had ever resided in a VP. It's awfully easy to suspect a connection between that event and the NIE affair, wouldn't you say?

More information on the timing would be interesting, I'd say.

Attention Virginians, next week Tom Davis will hold a series of Town Meetings

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